In the middle of the desert you can say anything you want

23 Apr 2024

Better Posters notes

The book by Better Posters’s author is freaking awesome. Short summary follows, not copypasting too much because copyright, but the book is 12/10.

Chapter 1: short form

TL;DR how to do a poster if you read only one chapter

  • Three columns, margins around them and between them at 50mm
  • so 8 inches/200mm for the margins toatl
  • take the width of your paper, subtract 8 inches (200 mm) for the margins,

and divide by three to find your column width. If your poster is 48 inches (1,220 mm), your columns will be 13⅓ inches (340 mm) wide. Yes, it’s an awkward number, but computers don’t care.

Short note to self

  • A0 is 841 x 1189mm1
    • My arm is around 70cm
  • Later the recommendation is 6 columns because flexibility
  • So now it’s margins 50mm top/down/l/r w/ columns like this
> cc (1189-100)/6
> cc (841-100)/6

After playing around, this is good enough I guess! (Ignore Y grid) 2024-04-23-194612_1313x930_scrot.png

After ignoring even more advice: 2024-04-23-195109_849x1113_scrot.png (EDIT: oh damn it’s 7, not 6!)


  • To look for typos, changing the font and column size helps! p. 49


  • Narrative
    • AND, BUT, THEREFORE (ABT) p.59
      • We scanned the salmon AND saw brain activity BUT this is impossible THEREFORE we should …
    • Find a narrative and keep it in mind when doing the poster; get other people to do their narrative and see if it’s at least close to yours

Visual thinking (p.64 Chapter 7)

Quoting directly because it’s freaking awesome.

  • “Dan Roam argues that there are six basic ways to show something, and you can recognize which you need by the kind of question you hear (Roam 2013)”:
    • If you hear a name – a “who or what” – you need a portrait. This is not necessarily a realistic or detailed portrait like a painting or a posed photo. A stick and ball chemical structure is a “portrait” of a molecule. A smiling emoji can be a portrait.
    • • If you hear a number – a “how many” – you need a chart or graph. A bar graph is a simple example.
    • • If you hear a location or a list – a “where” – you need a map. Again, this need not be a literal cartographic map. Anytime you talk about something “above,” “below,” “closer,” or “overlapping,” you have the potential to create a map. Examples include concept maps, pedigrees and phylogenies, org charts and Venn diagrams.
    • • If you hear a history – a “when” – you need a timeline. “Time” is one of the most common variables shown graphically (Tufte 2001).
    • • If you hear a sequence or process – a “how” – you need a flowchart.
    • • If you hear some complex combinations – a “why” – you need a multi-variable plot, like a scatterplot.
  • Design is making things look similar (consistency, grids, fonts) and different (h2 vs the text, etc.)

  • Main rules:

    • repetition, alignment, contrast, proximity
  • p.85 100-300 dpi is the sweet spot for posters

  • 108 when deciding how much to narrow/widen a line graph, aim for a max slope of about 45 degrees

  • 153 a font family is designed so that different fonts look OK together — DAMN.


The most important takeaway.

  • 165 “layouts that never work”
    • [--][ ] two wides one tall
    • [-] [-----] swedish flag
  • Numerate the order if it’s not obvious
  • Vary the place of the break so it’s not squares (right?down?) but obviously rows or columns:


[   ][    ]
[   ][    ]


[     ][  ]
[   ][    ]


  • p.191 has a list of cliches to replace, e.g. “make use of” -> “use” and “the use of” -> (Omit)
  • all-caps headers are worse because you can’t see the shape of the words — which is important from far away.
  • serif or no serif doesn’t really matter from a design perspective.

Before you print

221 checklist and ratings

Practical bits

  • Get a document tube! (And write your name on it!)
  • How to do conferences shoes to stand in for hours, tacks, PDF to print it if sth happens etc.

Not from Better Posters

Random gray or whatever color stripes can live up a white background


See also

Nel mezzo del deserto posso dire tutto quello che voglio.